Saturday, April 24, 2010

59: The Self-Empowered Woman: Edith Holden

Dear Followers,

Today I'd like to introduce you to an artistic woman who was born during Queen Victoria's reign, died in 1920, and half a century after her death became known around the world for her posthumously published book "The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady."

Edith Blackwell Holden was born in 1871, and her family consisted of four sisters and two brothers. Her mother, a Unitarian, wrote two little religious books for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. Before her marriage she had been a nanny, and encouraged all her children to read and pursue artistic hobbies. Both she and Edith's father had strong "spiritualist" beliefs, including "automatic writing" (3: Belief in the Unbelievable).

Edith and her siblings grew up near Birmingham, England, and they often walked in the countryside with their father to collect wildflowers that they would take home as gifts to their mother, whose health (after seven pregnancies) was frail. Flowers were a special delight for Edith's mother, and her enthusiasm for nature inspired her (already artistic) daughters (2: An Early Sense of Direction).

By the age of thirteen Edith was ready to enter the Birmingham School of Art, where she earned the highest grade available in freehand drawing, and by 19, her pictures were being accepted for the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists' Autumn Exhibition. During this time she decided to specialize in plant and animal painting, and spent hours exploring the countryside to find her models in their natural surroundings.

When she was 20, she moved to Scotland to study with Joseph Denovan Adam at his art school called "Craigmill." It was the first time she had been away from home and family, but it was the perfect environment to perfect her art.

For most of her adult life, Edith either worked as a part time art teacher or illustrated magazine articles or books. When she taught at the Solihull School for Girls, her students ranged from 14 to 17 years old. Edith encouraged her students to draw or paint flowers, twigs or berries and she "demanded" high standards from her students (10: The Critic Within).

In an era where most women were financially dependent on their father or their husband, Edith (and two of her sisters) became "self-supporting" artists.

When she was 39 years old she married Ernest Smith, a sculptor, who was seven years her junior. One spring morning in 1920, while gathering branches near Kew Gardens Walk, Edith fell in a backwater of the Thames and drowned. She was 49 years old.

Published in 1977, "The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady" was on the U.K. bestseller list for an amazing 203 weeks. It has sold over three million copies in thirteen countries, and over two million English-language copies. How wonderful that a quiet, introspective, nature-loving female artist had a positive impact on millions of people decades after her death.

Looking forward to your comments...


  1. I love readding, and thanks for your artical.........................................

  2. Hi there,
    you may be interested to learn of a new book about the Holden family.

    This 2013 paperback focuses on their Spiritual interests. Originally written by Edith's father 100 years ago, the updated and expanded version - called 'The Edwardian Afterlife Diary of Emma Holden' - is the complete Spiritual biography of Edith, her siblings and their parents.
    It contains previously unpublished photographs, a new family tree and more biographical information than has been available before.
    ISBN : 978-0957500709 (Amazon/Ebay/Publishers)

    Best wishes,
    Karl (the author !)

  3. Does the family tree have any more information on Violet Mary Holden. Did she marry? If so to whom?
    Michael Holden

    1. Dear Michael,

      sorry to say, I found no evidence that Violet ever married.
      She was cared for in her old age by her nephew,
      Esmond Holden (her brother Kenneth's son.)

      Best wishes,